Sometimes terminology is just confusing. One of the questions I’m most often asked during panels or at conventions is, “What is Nordic larp?”
It’s hard to answer this question because the term “Nordic larp,” and what it represents still seems up for debate among the Nordic larpers themselves. While this is an exciting sign of the robustness of the community, it’s also frustrating for those of us who live elsewhere. For us, ‘Nordic larp’ isn’t a storied living tradition, it’s a vocabulary term — people here just want to know the basics so we can talk about Nordic larp at cocktail parties without embarrassing ourselves, our friends, and all of Nordica in the abstract.
Here are a few ways the term is used:
-“Nordic larp” sounds like it refers to all larp that happens anywhere in the Nordic countries. If the Nordic scene is anything like the US scene — composed of many disparate groups of larpers doing their own thing, and often unaware of each other — then this designation is simply geographic. I’m guessing that there are probably some larger similarities, but that there isn’t a set of characteristics that applies across the board. (But hey, I’m not an expert, so what do I know?) It’s unclear whether this makes the term useful or not, since it lumps in big fantasy games with artsy fartsy ventures. Do they really both have stuff in common?
-Nordic Larp is also a delightful coffee table book that you must all run out and buy right now. In the book, Finnish editors Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola assembled a collection of essays and photographs documenting some important and interesting games of the last 15 years. The book tackles stuff from large medieval summer larps, to the most existential of experiences. The book, and the larps in the book, also define the term in some way. Stenros and Montola are aware that this may be problematic, and authored a paper explaining their process, and some of the dilemmas they faced along the way.
-Many people use “Nordic larp” as shorthand for “art larp that comes out of the Knutepunkt tradition.” Knutepunkt is an art larp convention that rotates its way around the Nordic capitals, changing its name to the local language depending on where it’s hosted. (So it’s called Knutepunkt, Knutpunkt, Knudepunkt, and Somukohta — confusing!) These games seem to have a core set of aesthetic principles. My sense is that since art larpers comprise only a fraction of their national — Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish — scenes, they banded together across borders and raised a flag, calling their games Nordic. So “Nordic larp” is constructed, perhaps, in opposition to “Danish larp,” “Finnish larp,” etc.
On this reading, the term “Nordic larp” narrowly applies to a school of design and play and as such, it’s quite useful. On the other hand, since “Nordic” sounds like a geographic area, the slippage between a concrete design school and a geographical area is problematic. Some people in the US interpret this definition as, “The Nordic people are trying to say that they have a monopoly on cool art larp!” That may not be the intention, but it can come across that way. I’ve also heard that some people who do more mainstream larp in various Nordic countries interpret the term as, “The arty larpers are suppressing narratives about my lovely boffer game by making ‘Nordic’ synonymous with ‘arty.'”
And so we’ll leave it there — nobody knows what “Nordic larp” is, but people still use the term all the time. So if you want to use it as a pickup line at your next party, just know that whatever you say, you’ll probably get it wrong in someone’s estimation.
Until you come to consensus through whatever byzantine coalition-building process you use, my dear Nordic larpers, we Americans will just persist in calling any game that originates in your territory ‘jeepform,’ even though that term has a specific and narrow meaning. Why? The jeepers mounted an early campaign that clearly defined their play style and marketed it so successfully that in America it’s now synonymous with any game — larp, freeform, tabletop — that originates in your homeland. If you’d like it to be otherwise, then you’ve got to put some clear definitions out on the internet, like yesterday.
The Swedish Larp Workshop’s Definition
Thread on the term at the Nordic larp forum
Johanna Koljonen’s Nordic Larp Talk Intro to Nordic Larp
Why We Play, Petter Karlsson’s introduction to Nordic larp
Nordic larp for Noobs, my attempt to help US players of the (Nordic?) larp Mad About the Boy
Roads & Kingdoms article on Nordic larp